After making friends with the FLOSS Manuals guys I was initially worried by how few people were in the base room for their book sprint. I needn’t have worried. As well as more people joining the room over the course of the weekend many other people were joining in from neighbouring rooms using the Harvard Science Centre’s wireless network and also online.
This particular book sprint was dedicated to producing a book to serve as an introduction to the GNU command line. I asked arund for such a book last year and Benjamin Mako Hill’s excellent “Debian GNU/Linux Super Bible” was recommended to me. FLOSS Manuals’ “GNU/Linux Commands” book is different, it is a more general introduction to the command line for users on any GNU distro. It is ideal for people who are new to GNU’s userland and to the idea of the UNIX command line in general.
“GNU/Linux Commands” starts with a very good example of how the command line can be more efficient than a GUI (a point that GUI users often do need persuading of), then builds up from the very basics to advanced shell scripting and other languages over 196 pages. Completing an 196 page book to the point where it can be printed over a weekend, even with planning and some contributions beforehand, is quite an achievement and a good demonstration of how free and collaborative projects (or “commons-based peer production” if we must) can succeed in new areas outside of software production.
The sprint served as a focus for activity from around the world. The results were very successful and I think exceeded everyone’s expectations. It’s a model that I think other non-software projects should consider emulating if they can. You can buy the book here.